U.S. natural gas futures gained about 2% to a one-week high on Thursday on a decline in output over the past few days, an increase in the amount of gas flowing to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants and record power demand in Texas. That gas price increase also came ahead of a weekly report expected to show last week's storage build was smaller than usual because power generators burned more gas to keep the lights on due to high coal prices and a lack of wind power.
Power use in Texas reached the highest level on record for the month of May on Tuesday and will likely break the grid's all-time high early next week as economic growth boosts overall usage and hot weather causes homes and businesses to crank up their air conditioners.
Analysts forecast that U.S. utilities added 86 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas to storage during the week ended May 27. That compares with an increase of 100 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2017-2021) average increase of 100 bcf. If correct, last week's increase would boost stockpiles to 1.898 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 15.2% below the five-year average of 2.239 tcf for this time of the year.
After dropping about 7% on Tuesday and rising about 7% on Wednesday, front-month gas futures for July delivery rose 20.5 cents, or 2.4%, to $8.901 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 9:57 a.m. EDT (1357 GMT), putting the contract on track for its highest close since May 26. U.S. gas futures were up about 139% so far this year as much higher prices in Europe and Asia keep demand for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports strong, especially since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine stoked fears that Moscow might cut gas supplies to Europe. Gas was trading around $26 per mmBtu in Europe and $24 in Asia.
U.S. futures lag far behind global prices because the United States is the world's top producer with all the gas it needs for domestic use, while capacity constraints inhibit additional LNG exports.
Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states fell to 94.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in June from 95.1 bcfd in May. That compares with a monthly record of 96.1 bcfd in December 2021. Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand, including exports, would rise from 85.1 bcfd this week to 85.9 bcfd next week.
The forecast for this week was higher than Refinitiv's outlook on Wednesday, while the forecast for next week was lower. The average amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants rose to 12.7 bcfd so far in June from 12.5 bcfd in May. That compares with a monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March. The United States can turn about 13.6 bcfd of gas into LNG.
The United States, which will not be able to produce much more LNG anytime soon, has worked with allies to divert exports from elsewhere to Europe to help European Union countries and others break dependence on Russian gas after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Russia boosted pipeline exports to Europe to 7.3 bcfd on Tuesday from 6.8 bcfd on Tuesday on the three mainlines into Germany: North Stream 1 (Russia-Germany), Yamal (Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany) and the Russia-Ukraine-Slovakia-Czech Republic-Germany route. That compares with an average of 11.6 bcfd in June 2021.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Mark Porter)